In de­fense of the 1.5C cli­mate change thresh­old

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

The Earth to­day is more than 1 de­gree centi­grade hot­ter than it was in pre-in­dus­trial times, and the ter­ri­ble symp­toms of its fever are al­ready show­ing. This year alone, back-to-back hur­ri­canes have dev­as­tated Caribbean is­lands, mon­soon flood­ing has dis­placed tens of mil­lions in South Asia, and fires have raged on nearly ev­ery con­ti­nent. Pulling the planet back from the brink could not be more ur­gent.

Those of us who live on the front lines of cli­mate change – on ar­chi­pel­a­gos, small is­lands, coastal low­lands, and rapidly de­ser­ti­fy­ing plains – can’t af­ford to wait and see what an­other de­gree of warm­ing will bring. Al­ready, far too many lives and liveli­hoods are be­ing lost.

Peo­ple are be­ing up­rooted, and vi­tal re­sources are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly scarce, while those suf­fer­ing the most se­vere con­se­quences of cli­mate change are also among those who have done the least to cause it.

That is why the Philip­pines used its chair­man­ship of the Cli­mate Vul­ner­a­ble Fo­rum (CVF) – an al­liance of the 48 coun­tries that stand to bear the brunt of cli­mate change – to fight to en­sure that the 2015 Paris cli­mate agree­ment aimed ex­plic­itly to cap global warm­ing at 1.5C above pre-in­dus­trial lev­els. For us, 1.5C isn’t merely a sym­bolic or “as­pi­ra­tional” num­ber to be plugged into in­ter­na­tional agree­ments; it is an ex­is­ten­tial limit. If global tem­per­a­tures rise above that level, the places we call home – and many other homes on this planet – will be­come un­in­hab­it­able or even dis­ap­pear com­pletely.

When we first in­tro­duced the 1.5C tar­get back in 2009, we met sub­stan­tial re­sis­tance. Cli­mate-change de­niers – those who refuse to be­lieve the sci­ence of hu­man-in­duced global warm­ing – con­tinue to dis­miss any such ef­fort to stem the rise in the planet’s tem­per­a­ture as fu­tile and un­nec­es­sary. But even well-mean­ing cli­mate ad­vo­cates and pol­i­cy­mak­ers of­ten op­posed the 1.5C tar­get, ar­gu­ing that, ac­cord­ing to the sci­ence, hu­mans had al­ready emit­ted enough green­house gases to make meet­ing that goal vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble.

Yet, on this front, the sci­ence is not as clear-cut as it might have seemed. Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent pa­per pub­lished in ‘Na­ture’, the world’s re­main­ing “car­bon bud­get” – the amount of car­bon-diox­ide equiv­a­lents we can emit be­fore breach­ing the 1.5C thresh­old – is some­what larger than was pre­vi­ously thought.

This find­ing is no

rea­son

for

com­pla­cency,

as some com­men­ta­tors (not sci­en­tists) seem to think. It does not mean that pre­vi­ous cli­mate mod­els were ex­ces­sively alarmist, or that we can take a more re­laxed ap­proach to rein­ing in global warm­ing. In­stead, the pa­per should in­spire – and, in­deed, calls for – more im­me­di­ate, de­lib­er­ate, and ag­gres­sive ac­tion to en­sure that green­house-gas emis­sions peak within a few years and net-zero emis­sions are achieved by mid­cen­tury.

What would such ac­tion look like? Global emis­sions would need to be re­duced by 4-6% ev­ery year, un­til they reached zero.

Mean­while, for­est and agri­cul­tural lands would have to be re­stored, so that they could cap­ture and se­quester greater amounts of car­bon diox­ide. Fully de­car­bon­is­ing our en­ergy and trans­porta­tion sys­tems in four decades will re­quire a her­culean ef­fort, but it is not im­pos­si­ble.

Be­yond their en­vi­ron­men­tal con­se­quences, such ef­forts would gen­er­ate ma­jor eco­nomic gains, boost­ing the mid­dle class in de­vel­oped coun­tries and pulling hun­dreds of mil­lions out of poverty in the de­vel­op­ing world, in­clud­ing by fu­elling job cre­ation. The en­ergy tran­si­tion will lead to mas­sive ef­fi­ciency sav­ings, while im­prov­ing the re­silience of in­fra­struc­ture, sup­ply chains, and ur­ban ser­vices in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, par­tic­u­larly those in vul­ner­a­ble re­gions.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port pub­lished last year by the United Na­tions De­vel­op­ment Pro­gramme, main­tain­ing the 1.5C thresh­old and creat­ing a low-car­bon econ­omy would add as much as $12 trln to global GDP, com­pared to a sce­nario in which the world sticks to cur­rent poli­cies and emis­sions-

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